The Real Value of Miles & Points

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We had something of a minor family emergency this week at Unintended Domesticity HQ.  (Don’t worry, we’re all fine.)  But as a result, we needed to quickly fly in a relative that lives hundreds of miles away.

The relative didn’t have the money to buy the outrageously expensive last minute tickets, which were running upwards of $500 for one-way, or nearly $400 (plus the real likelihood of a $100 change fee later on) for a round trip. And while we could have fronted this relative the money, we didn’t really want to take that hit to our budget either.

Luckily, I’ve been collecting travel miles and points for years now, and in fact am right in the middle of a new round of card churning. So before I parted ways with our hard-earned cash, I took a look at what my miles could get me.

The first option I had was to book through one of the respective travel portals where I had points, like Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi Thank You Rewards.  These portals allow you to book tickets using points as if they were the same as cash, in which 1 point = 1 cent. That would have meant spending roughly 50,000 points on this one-way flight, which wasn’t an ideal situation, but could be done, if necessary.

The second option was to transfer some of my points to individual carriers. There were several carriers flying the route that we needed, including Delta and United.  Using the same reward programs mentioned above, this meant we could either transfer Citi Thank You Reward points to Flying Blue, a Delta Sky Alliance partner that allows you to book one-way awards on Delta, or, we could transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards to United, directly.

Taking a look at award availability on both programs, we were in luck – both airlines had award availability on the day we needed, and either award would have cost 17,500 points – far less than the 50k of booking through a travel portal. Seeing as the United flight was direct and the Delta flight was not, I instantly transferred the needed points over from my Chase account and booked the ticket.

We were hit with a $75 close-in booking fee (which would have been lowered or waived if I had better status on United) and around $50 in taxes, but still came out $375 ahead of where we would have been with a cash booking. That made the redemption value for my Ultimate Reward points roughly 2.2 cents per mile, which far outperforms the current valuation of United points at 1.5 cents per mile, and is slightly better than Ultimate Rewards current valuation at 2.1 cents per mile.

But the real value?  The real value is that we were able to get a family member where they needed to be in an emergency with little hassle and little out of pocket cost, reducing stress all around.  And that, my friends, is invaluable.

Header image credit: Flickr user origami-imagiro under a Creative Commons license.

Whitney